It’s here. The time of year when flip flops slowly give way to scarves and the security of denim jackets. Crisp, curling leaves litter the sidewalks and the air is heady with sweet smoke from stoked wood fireplaces. Halloween “fun-sized” candy creeps into workplaces, because when it’s fun, calories don’t count, right?
Embracing the seasonal change is made easier by limited-time-only autumnal pleasures. Fall is not only signalled by a temperature drop and bracing mornings, but by the return of frothy pumpkin spice lattes and decadent cream-cheese stuffed pumpkin muffins. Kraft caramels, candy corn and Cadbury Screme eggs (with lime green fondant) also act as a pleasant balm to summer’s end.
This year, everyone and everything seems to be pumped by the pumpkin. Godiva sucked me in with their oh-so-pretty pumpkin spice ganache and pumpkin cream cheese truffles. Seriously, the chocolates could double as costume jewelry or museum showpieces under glass.
Rumour has it that Paulette’s Original Donuts & Chicken is seducing Leslieville with get-‘em-while-you-can pumpkin spice donuts. Tim Horton’s is hot on the scene too with day-glo orange sprinkles adorning the usual offerings of glazed goods.
Cool Hand Luc on King West promised me another barrel of pumpkin ice cream was to arrive this week. The day I stopped in they were sold out. I settled for a thick and rich butternut squash soup instead and marvelled at how a place could serve up soup and ice cream with equal popularity and success.
The seasonal showcase is alive and well at Jimmy’s Coffee on Portland too. The generous and dense slabs (think Texas Toast) of pumpkin loaf are woodsy, moist and perfect gut-fillers for romantic fall walks through the transforming trees of Trinity Bellwoods Park.*I can attest to the year-round addictive qualities of Jimmy’s sweet potato and pecan muffins too. With big hits of nutmeg, these heavy-weights are the best thing to pick at with a dark Hendrix roast in the dying afternoon light on the front patio. It’s like swallowing all of October. (Loaves and muffins are both made by Circles and Squares bake shop.)
For die-hard pumpkin pie lovers, drop into Wanda’s Pie in the Sky in Kensington for a sugar and spice and everything nice fix. If you can resist instant gratification, tote your slice home and do it up with proper East coast flair: drizzled in dark ribbons of maple syrup. I’ve been spoiled by the introduction and can have pumpkin pie no other way.
For pumpkin strayers but autumn lovers, The Pie Shack in the Beaches is hawking wedges (a “slice” is ¼ of a pie in these parts) of apple cinnamon pie this month. Add a dollop of ice cream, whipped cream or cheese to round out your sweet fantasy because $6 is cheap happiness.
Not into the baked goods and calorie monster lattes?
Grab a stool at Hair of the Dog on Church street where they’re pulling pints of Great Lakes Brewing Company’s pumpkin ale. With a swizzle of whipped cream on top, this one could be liquid pie in a glass. Handlebar (located in Kensington Market), the kid sister bar of Leslieville’s Avro pub, is serving Nightmare on Mill Street, another homerun for the Mill Street microbrew—this time marrying pumpkin and spices in a non-cloying way. The clove finish and just-baked pie inhale is the best way to toast fall.
If you’d rather pull on pajamas and download the 1978 slasher Halloween (starring siren Jamie Lee Curtis), turn on the gas fireplace and rest assured with your LCBO pumpkin beer bounty. Mill Street has 6-packs of Nightmare on Mill Street and its Oktoberfest brew on sale. Black Creek Historic Brewery has launched a 500ml ginger-kicked pumpkin ale, joining the fall guy club with Beau’s 600ml tribute (Weiss-o-Lantern) and St. Ambroise’s 4-pack (whose apricot beer is legendary). Up the booze ante with Shipyard’s Smashed Pumpkin (Portland, Maine). Warning: at 9% alcohol, you might end up as a jackass-o-lantern.
Creative and ambitious sorts can stop in at Bloor Superfresh just west of Spadina to purchase the kind of pumpkin Linus dreamed of in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown ($90). Mid-size but still gargantuan selections will set you back $25 (urban pumpkin prices, groan), but, they are gourds on steroids and you’ll need some serious muscles or steroids to get the suckers home.
Other fall things you should keep on your radar:
Smoke’s Poutinerie is advertising (insert drum roll and dramatic gasp here) “Thanksgiving Poutine.” All the usual suspects (fries, curds, gravy)—loaded with turkey stuffing. Yeah, holy crap.
City of the Dead
Get in the full Halloween groove with the Necropolis Cemetery tour on October 21st at 1:30pm. Visit the graves of William Lyon Mackenzie and his family on 200 Winchester Street near Riverdale Farm.
Church Street October 31st
On October 31st, Church street in Toronto is the place to prowl. The gay village strip closes to vehicular traffic from 7—11pm and drag Queens do it to the nines. The costumes are what your 5-year-old self envisioned, but never accomplished with pipe cleaners and crepe paper. Bar hop from the slick Smith bar to the thump and boozy martini grounds of Byzantium to the beefy boy crowd at Woody’s. Or, just spike up a hot cocoa and enjoy the zany parade of the dressed-up and dressed-down on the street. Tricks or treats will be easily found.